By Ben Venier
I woke up early, earlier than I ever did at camp. It was around 7 in the morning, and the camp was dead. No one was in sight as my friend Shane and I headed to the showers. We were to leave for a trip to Algonquin Park about an hour later, and we wouldn’t have showers for the whole four-day trip. Of course, we needed to look nice for the girls on the trip. After our chilly walk back to the cabin from the shower house, we got changed into our clothes for the day. Our dry sacs had been packed the night before, so we just needed to carry them up to the Trip Shed. We took the trek through camp to the Mess Hall and Trip Shed, a walk that would soon pale in comparison to the portages ahead.
Breakfast was bagels that morning, a pretty good meal if you ask me. Sitting in the empty Mess Hall, with the other 4 guys and 6 girls on the trip was an altogether different experience than normal Camp Timberlane meals. On any given day, the Mess Hall would be blasting music and entire cabins of campers would be standing up on their benches, or even their tables, belting out their favourite songs. Jake Mortenson, our tripper who is known only as Mort, came in and told us to finish up and go down to the Trip Shed to load the packs.
We headed down there, and it looked as if a tornado had torn through the shed. There were packs strewn everywhere and bagged food thrown all over the floor as the trippers were rushing to finish their last-minute preparations.
“Well, what would you like us to help with?” I asked Mort.
“Load up the double and triple packs with all your dry sacs and water shoes. Load the U-Pack with everything on that tarp over there, and then bring them all out to the trailer,” answered Mort.
By that time, the girls were already swooning over Mort, so we packed up and threw the bags onto the trailer of the old school bus. Mort and our other trippers finally finished their preparations and we boarded the musty old bus for our 3-hour drive from Haliburton to Algonquin Park.
As we rolled through camp, we saw the bleary-eyed, sluggish kids walking by towards breakfast. Some of them waved to us, while others didn’t even notice the bus and continued their slow walk through camp. Going past our cabin, I wished it a silent goodbye, knowing I wouldn’t see it for a few days. I was looking forward to getting out of camp for a bit, taking a break from the daily routine. It would also allow me to become closer friends with people I normally wouldn’t have been close with, something I always welcome.
Driving through Haliburton, we passed the hockey arena with the portraits of NHL stars Matt Duchene, Ron Stackhouse, and Bernie Nicholls painted on the side. Everyone was trying to make up a song for this trip. Songs were being thrown around that could serve as the tune for our song, and we eventually settled on some Pitch Perfect mashup. I’m not quite sure why, but it seemed to work out alright. After about ten minutes of thinking of lyrics, I closed my eyes. The next thing I knew we were stopped at the Algonquin Park permit station. We got out of the bus and stretched our legs. It had been a long journey, and we only had to go about twenty minutes up the road to the next lake. That’s where we were supposed to launch our canoes.
As we were loading the boats, the trippers were making us lunch. Sandwiches with sliced meat, cheese and mustard were what was on the menu. There seemed to be a couple leftovers, so, knowing I would be hungry later, I stuffed one into my pocket. As the trippers explained, we would have to paddle for about an hour across this lake, take a 1 km portage, paddle another hour or two, portage another 700m, and then we would be on the lake where we would spend the night.
During the first hour of paddling, we heard an engine coming from behind us. We turned around to see a woman drive up to us in a motor boat and start yelling at us to move to the right for a boat race. We didn’t know what she was talking about, and she kept yelling at us. Obviously, she didn’t own the lake, but we moved over anyway and kept paddling. By the time we made it to the first portage, we were well ahead of the girls. We unloaded the boats and prepared ourselves for the first portage of the trip. I hauled the triple-pack onto my back, grabbed an armful of life jackets and a water jug, and was on my way. The portage went by pretty quickly. It didn’t take us more than 25 minutes to complete and seemed even faster than that as Shane and I were singing the entire time. Everyone was talking about how hungry they are, but they didn’t have a pocket sandwich like I did. They were all jealous of it. I was so glad I thought to toss it in my pocket, and I wolfed it down.
The rest of the day went by pretty quickly and pretty uneventfully, with a lot of paddling and some portaging. When we got to our camp site, we were assigned tasks to get the site ready for making food and spending the night. I went off with Shane and our friend Sam to collect wood for the fire. This took a lot of time, because the trippers wanted us to collect way more than necessary. By the time we finished collecting, it was around dinner time (or at least that is what our stomachs were telling us because they didn’t tell us the time on trips), and there was water boiling in a pot on the open fire. Dinner was minestrone soup and chicken Caesar wraps. Our stomachs were grumbling because the last thing we had eaten was a Nutri-Grain bar on the water.
After our chicken Caesar wraps, we headed on over to the girls’ site to chill, but we didn’t last long after our long, tiring day. So, we headed on back to our site and went to sleep. The next morning, we woke up and headed out on another long day of paddling and portaging. We completed about six hours of paddling, about 4 km in portages, and stopped to go cliff jumping before we finally settled in to our camp site. The late afternoon sun was beating down on us in our final stretch of paddling and all we wanted was to hop into the glistening, blue lake. So that was just what we did. As soon as we got to the site, we tore off our shirts and shoes and dove into the cool, refreshing lake. It was a welcome chill that went up my spine after a long, hot day of paddling. We dried off and ate dinner. Once we were done, we sat around the fire under the fast-darkening sky. It had been another long day and everyone was tired. We headed to the tent, played a quick game of president, and fell asleep.
This day was our last full day in the Park. It was also the longest paddle day and had a portage of more than three kilometres. It would also, as I reflect on it later, become one of the best days of my life. The paddling was hard, and long, but it was fun because of who I was doing it with. For the entire day, Sam and I were in a boat with Lauren, the tripper. She is Irish and she was telling us some insane riddles she had learned. Many of them took a very long time to figure out. As we rounded a corner in the lake, we started to see a huge plume of black smoke up ahead. Our boats were the first ones to spot the smoke as we were ahead of everyone else. When we rounded the corner completely, we saw a whole island going up in flames. There was no one on the island, but it housed one camp site. We assumed someone didn’t put out their fire and it spread to the surrounding trees. It was in the middle of the lake, so it wasn’t a danger to the surrounding forest. We continued on past it and headed towards a 1.5 km portage. We finished that one pretty quickly, so I doubled back to see if anyone needed help. I thought maybe the girls would have made it to the portage, and I was right. We saw some of our friends trekking by us and we made our way to the start. Someone said that Katie had the barrel and probably needed a hand. It is lucky that I went back to check, because she was laying on the ground, not able to carry it any further. So I picked it up off her back and carried it back the entire 1.5 km. It was nice company talking to her, though, and Katie was very grateful.
Another two hours of paddling brought us to the dreaded 3 km portage. I grabbed a pack and decided to run the portage to get it over with quicker. I finished it in record time, although I was super tired by the end. Running a 3 km portage with a very heavy pack on your back and arms full of paddles was very hard, but I felt very accomplished and earned myself a much-needed rest at the finish.
When we arrived at our campsite for the night, I looked at it and it was the coolest campsite I’d ever seen. From the front, there was a beach that stretches for about 25 metres down to the right. When you walked on the site, there was a fireplace right in the middle, but past that was the cool part. What we saw were rows upon rows of pine trees, their needles far up in the sky. They were lined up in perfect rows for as far as I could see. The ground sloped slowly upwards and was covered in a soft bed of pine needles. “Welcome to the Tree Farm,” said Mort. We explored the site while our dinner of steaks was being cooked up.
When we were done eating, I started talking to a girl named Sammi. I didn’t know her well, but she was friends with a lot of my friends. We talked for the whole night, sitting together by the water, sometimes with other people. Sammi had just become one of my best friends, as already that night, we had shared things with each other that only are shared between close friends. Throughout the rest of camp and to this day, she is one of my best friends, and I thank that trip for it.
When it was very late, and everyone except Sam, me, and one other guy had gone into tents, Mort offered to take us out on the lake to star watch. The sky was filled with beautiful, twinkling stars and you could see them so clearly. No light pollution from nearby cities obscured the view. It was incredible, as I could see every constellation, some I didn’t even know existed. There were shooting stars every few minutes that lit up the sky as they streaked by. The sky was perfectly reflected on the flat calm water and everything was pitch black but the stars. This moment will live on in my memory forever.
The next morning, we woke up and immediately started filling the packs. We loaded the canoes and took a lethargic, early morning paddle to the pickup point. As we loaded the bus and headed to a Tim Hortons on the way home, I realized that this trip was a life-changing experience. It is one where I created multiple new friendships, made so many new memories, and saw so many new things. It was almost as if the stars I saw were a metaphor for my trip, a wide expanse of beauty that I discovered and came to appreciate as I looked back. I do not regret for one second going on this trip, and I don’t believe I will ever go on one quite like it again.